I am 11 years old. I have been friends with my cousin (who is 12) since I was 6. But she got an iPhone and my other cousin has one, too. When they are on them, there is conversation, but it is mostly centered on what is on the screen. I feel bad about looking at it and looking at cellphones is somewhat, well … boring (I don’t think I’m allowed to look at them anyway).
I do not mind my telling the 12-year-old cousin to put her phone away, sometimes, and when I do she takes it very well, but at least half the time, before I know it, the phone is out again. And with the other girl and when they are together, I’m not so sure about telling them. … Also it’s hard to find other things to do. There is sometimes at least one baby at my Grandpa’s house, but you can’t look at babies all the time. I guess I should let them play with the phones without my interference for some time, but when I would like to play, then, I can be at a loss for what to do. I often look so forward to actually playing with them! I feel sort of … well … replaced by the phone. Can you tell me something I could to do get us actually playing? But I also don’t want them to get bored.
Dear Granny Goose,
You sound wise beyond your years. Phones can really monopolize people, so I totally understand why you would feel replaced. The good news is that there is so much to life beyond phones!
It’s taken me some months to answer your question because I had to reflect good and hard because I didn’t feel I had quite the right relationship with my phone. It’s better now, but is something I need to continually work at.
I am very happy to hear you find them boring! I wrote an article a couple years ago about the dark side of social media—that it has addictive potential similar to gambling and can contribute to low self-esteem. Not to mention it can be a huge waste of time. Over the past few years, I’ve heard several successful people say that setting clear boundaries around social media (and not getting lost in it) was a part of their success.
So I really worry for the young people today who have uncontrolled access to social media.
I’m of a generation that started life before cellphones and the internet. I only really started using the internet in college, and didn’t get an iPhone until I was 30 and needed it for work. And boy, I can tell they have changed me.
I can personally attest to the fact that they numb body and mind. If I hold my cellphone up to my ear during a conversation, I can right away start to feel discomfort next to where I hold it, and if I hold my phone too long, I feel the discomfort in my fingers—kind of numb and achy at the same time. I keep screen time to a minimum with my children since they’re all under 6, but one thing I do use screens for is anesthetic. When my kids have a painful injury, I give them my phone with a puppy video on it and they let me clean and bandage without a peep.
I also find myself reaching for my phone when I’m tired, to boost my energy, or when I’m upset as a way to calm down. I’m working to break from these habits and use more solid coping mechanisms. I’ve also noticed that using my phone can make me impatient with my kids, and I’m guilty of wasting precious hours on social media. As I’m training myself to use my phone less, I’m finding it really valuable to have time alone with my own thoughts, to reflect on how to improve my parenting and other relationships, and of course how to answer questions from all you dear readers.
As a society, we’re very much in the early phases of mass personal technology, and I think most people are unaware of the damage that’s being done. I know many young people now will not know what life is like without it, and it will shape their lives—their feelings and beliefs and perhaps even their health, without their realizing it.
So to parents reading this, I hope we can pay attention to the impact of social media and personal technology on the body, mind, and spirit of our children, enforce good boundaries, and teach good habits.
So to answer your question about what else to do: What would you get excited about doing?
Some things I would get excited about would be arts and crafts—making bead jewelry or friendship bracelets or making gifts or cards for others is fun. You might even be able to persuade your parents to send you to an in-person workshop or purchase an online class.
Another area that can be fun and also very useful for young ladies is to practice doing your hair, nails, and makeup. I now wish I had a few more skills in this area, since I now need to make myself look presentable in a very short time every morning.
Also, learning what is in the products you use is important (although maybe not as much fun), but making DIY personal care products can be. It’s also great to learn about your hair and skin type so you know how to take care of them.
In the fashion department, learn your skin tone and what colors and shades best flatter it.
And cooking! When I was your age, I spent many breakfasts reading nutrition-oriented cookbooks and this really helped me learn to prepare healthy meals, which I’ve found to be a super valuable life skill.
If your situation allows, getting some exercise together—walking, swimming, biking, and rollerblading are fun and healthy.
I asked another 11-year-old for ideas of what to do and she said play hide-and-seek but hide in really challenging spots, do a makeover, have a snowball fight (in winter), bake a pie, or play Truth or Dare (as long as the dares aren’t gross or harmful).
Given what you described, it may be very hard for you to win your cousin away from her phone, but everything important in life is worth working hard for. I would start by asking her what she might like to do. Have patience when she goes back to her phone; maybe bring an activity you can do or a good book you can read alongside her.
And a final thought: If sometimes you ask your grandfather if he needs help with anything or you volunteer to watch the baby for a bit, you will contribute greatly to the overall happiness of your family, and I think you will find this makes you feel good as well.
Thanks for your question.
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June Kellum is a married mother of three and longtime Epoch Times journalist covering family, relationships, and health topics.